Ultimate Spider-Man Updated Impressions

Activision swings by to give us an updated look at its comic book-based action game starring everyone's favorite webslinger.

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At E3 last month, we got our first look at Ultimate Spider-Man, the upcoming webslinging action game from Activision and longtime Spidey developer Treyarch. With games based on both of the Spider-Man films under its belt, the dev team has set about creating a new game based on Marvel's classic hero that will retain the best aspects of the past titles, as well as add new mechanical and stylistic elements to make it a fresh experience. Between an impressive graphical makeover and some new gameplay additions that are sure to please the hardcore fan base, it looks like Treyarch is well on its way.

We recently got a look at some new sections of Ultimate Spider-Man, which is naturally based on the comic book of the same name. Like all of Marvel's Ultimate series, Ultimate Spider-Man reimagines the classic superhero with a bit more contemporary appeal. For instance, the Ultimate Peter Parker is a Web designer, not a newspaper photographer, and he's now back to his roots as a hapless high school student. This is sort of a restart for the series, in other words. The game will pick up after the comic's Venom storyline, which was a wildly successful venture for Marvel. In fact, the superpopular supervillain will even make a significant playable appearance in the game.

Treyarch is going to great lengths to re-create the look of Ultimate Spider-Man as accurately as possible in its game, even going so far as to coin several ostentatious buzz phrases to describe the various graphical components in play. Our favorite is "3D comic inking technology," which is based on the standard cel-shading technique, but it uses color saturation and a greater degree of shadowing to make the characters look as if they were actually drawn and inked by a comic artist. "Variable line weighting" will give the black outlines of each character different thicknesses depending on its orientation, adding to the stylish look of the game.

Furthering the authentic comic book feel, Ultimate Spider-Man will make use of "motion graphics panels," which are essentially comic book-style panels of varying size that convey both storyline and gameplay elements. The cutscenes that we saw using the moving panels were done with a lot of panache, and they pulled off such stylish tricks as showing characters from different angles in multiple panels and zooming onto the screen to fit into empty spaces (you need to see this in motion to appreciate it). Motion graphics panels will show up during gameplay, too. For example, you'll often see an important cue, such as a boss's weak point, pop up on the side of the screen in a comic-style panel that fits the game's aesthetic, and it looks neat to boot. By the way, we're using these jargonlike phrases with tongue placed firmly in cheek, as the game's visuals really do look quite striking when you see them in motion.

You'll get to play as both Spider-Man and his nefarious archrival, Venom, in the new game.
You'll get to play as both Spider-Man and his nefarious archrival, Venom, in the new game.

While playing as Spider-Man, the combat emphasizes Peter Parker's incredible strength rather than making him look like some kind of martial art master. Your most viable tactics will involve quickly switching between attacks from one enemy to the next, so as to keep even large groups off balance. In fact, an accolade system will even reward such a fighting style--the more variety you pull off, the more the game will congratulate you and accordingly enhance your attacks.

Playing as Venom will be more than a bit different, as you'd imagine. For instance, there's that whole thing where the Venom suit is constantly sucking at host Eddie Brock's life force, which in practical terms means you'll always be losing health a little bit at a time. Luckily, you can grab any innocent bystanders you see and absorb them into your suit, which will give you a little health back. Venom's attacks are much burlier than Spidey's, and he focuses more on stronger melee and less on jumping around a lot. The accolade system is absent here, but in its place you get to use Venom's tentacles to their full destructive potential, which has to be at least as good.

Go Get 'Em, Tiger

Activision says Ultimate Spider-Man will feature the largest roster of villains ever seen in a Spidey game, and from the brief action we got to see, this seems to be the case. One demo level had Spider-Man moving through a ravaged part of the city, helping out civilians in distress as he tracked down the marauding Rhino. The mission culminated in a multipart fight with Rhino that involved construction equipment and a used-car lot, among other unlikely elements. It seems that you'll have to use your brawn as much as your brains to win the many boss fights found in the final game.

Ultimate Spidey will feature more villains per square inch than any Spider-Man game before it.
Ultimate Spidey will feature more villains per square inch than any Spider-Man game before it.

The same was true for the Venom fight in our demo, which saw the dark, tongued one squaring off against Electro to see who would have the honor of, um, killing Spider-Man. Hard to root for either side in that particular matchup, admittedly...but anyway, Venom was pretty powerless to act against the fully powered-up Electro, considering his one weakness is electricity. The most viable tactic here was to bust open a nearby fire hydrant and lure Electro into it, which would discharge the villain's electricity and allow Venom to whale on him with melee attacks for a brief period. Did we mention the fight takes place in Times Square? Electro could use all those enormous lighted signs to recharge himself, but Venom was able to leap up and destroy those signs to prevent Electro from getting a leg up on the fight.

Ultimate Spider-Man will feature some other nifty environment interactions as well, whether you're playing as Venom or the famous webslinger himself. During several parts of the mission where we had to chase down Rhino, Spidey was tasked with performing some superhuman feat of strength to free a trapped citizen, such as lifting a giant television or a car. In these sequences, you'll have to perform a rapid button combo with fairly precise timing in order to pull off the move and save the day.

On the other hand, Venom will be able to use his sinister tentacles to grab those same cars and fling them around, which we saw demonstrated during his fight with Electro. Finally, during the section of the Rhino fight in the used-car lot, we saw the great horned one stampeding through a group of parked cars, knocking them every which way and making Spider-Man's life difficult in the process.

Like Spider-Man 2, Ultimate Spider-Man is, at its heart, a free-roaming action game, and you'll pick up both story-related and peripheral challenge missions as you move about the cityscape. You'll start off as Spidey, of course, and the Venom segments will simply be initiated when you activate the appropriate story missions. Once you've completed the entire story portion of the game, though, you'll unlock the ability to roam freely about the city as Venom, giving you plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc on the helpless citizenry.

Even the book's writer and character artist have gotten into the act with Treyarch's latest project.
Even the book's writer and character artist have gotten into the act with Treyarch's latest project.

Treyarch and Activision have gone to impressive lengths to make the Ultimate Spider-Man experience as authentic to the comic book as possible. And you can't get much more authentic than hiring the comic's writer, Brian Michael Bendis, to pen your storyline, nor enlisting the aid of Mark Bagley, the series' character designer, to do all your concept art. If that weren't enough for diehard fans, the game will even contain a couple of major characters that have yet to make an appearance on newsstands. We didn't get to find out who these mystery characters are, but one of them will eventually be showing up in the book, hopefully around the time of the game's release. Mysteriously, the other character is a classic from Spider-Man's past and a favorite of the Treyarch team that hasn't gotten the Ultimate treatment--until now.

Ultimate Spider-Man is looking like a game that'll put a smile on any hardcore comic book geek's face, what with its varied gameplay and reverential adherence to the source material. Oh yeah, it looks pretty nice, too. The game ships in the fall, so stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.

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